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Lightning and the NHL adjust to new coronavirus media policies

Teams are setting up new media spaces in the first day after the leagues’ media bans.
Kevin Shattenkirk speaks with the media in a small room at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
Kevin Shattenkirk speaks with the media in a small room at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. [ GABE MARTE | Courtesy of the Tampa Bay Lightning ]
Published Mar. 11, 2020|Updated Mar. 12, 2020

TORONTO — When the Lightning arrived at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Brian Breseman had to scope out space for his players and coach to meet with the media.

The team’s senior director of communications usually just sets the pop-up backdrop in the hallway, but things got more complicated Tuesday. The NHL and three other professional sports leagues closed locker rooms to the media and mandated a news conference set up. Their goal is to help limit the spread of coronavirus by creating space between players and journalists.

The Maple Leafs offered a small room attached to the NBA Raptors’ locker room. They added a table for players to sit behind. TV outlets propped their microphones on pucks scattered on the table, and voila a second media room.

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“It’s a necessarily evil,” Lightning defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “The teams are doing the right things to protect everyone and obviously we know in our rooms as well, they just want to limit the contact as much possible. Just to be safe.”

Walking by a reporter in the hallway, goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy jokingly made a point of holding his breath.

Teams around the league are finding and creating these new media spaces in their buildings.

The Lightning will offer visiting teams an unused locker room space off the tunnel leading to their bench. The team has used that space for large scrums for media day and the final interviews after the season ends.

In Philadelphia, the Bruins set up a backdrop for players to stand in front of and then put them at the head of a six-foot folding table to create a physical representation of the space between player and media.

In Detroit, Carolina set up roping (the kind that creates lines at airport security) to maintain that space.

Some teams are finding ways to allow one-on-one interviews, in person or by phone, but most are not. The bans include internal media personnel who work for the team and league.

Even as media access has been limited to avoid passing the virus, players still share sweat towels on the bench and, of course, come into contact with each other’s sweat-soaked jerseys.

“You listen to the right people, the CDC,” Shattenkirk said. “It’s wash your hands and treat it as you would if you’re worried about catching a cold or the flu. I think we’re all trying to be as careful about it as possible, but not freaking out about it too much.”

Fans still sit right on top of each other. In Philadelphia, a city which recommended limiting gathers of more than 5,000 people, the Flyers announced an attendance of 19,689 — their sixth-highest of the season.

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Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere told Courier-Post’s Dave Issac, “It’s Philly, bro.”

The league released a statement on Wednesday that it is evaluating its options and expects to have a further update on Thursday. That followed the NBA suspending play and the NCAA deciding to hold March Madness in empty arenas.

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Santa Clara County, which includes San Jose, banned crowds larger than 1,000 people, and the state of Ohio is expected to do the same. The Sharks and Blue Jackets have announced they will play games as scheduled but the arenas will be closed to the public.

Both organizations will allow home and visiting team personnel, credentialed media and broadcast partners, essential club and arena staff and league officials. It is not yet clear exactly who will be considered essential staff.

Tampa mayor Jane Castor said the policy group intends to meet Thursday to discuss future mass events. It’s unclear what that would mean for the Lightning.

Lightning forward Yanni Gourde said it would definitely feel “way different,” if it comes to empty arenas. But that their jobs are to show up and play.

Contact Diana C. Nearhos at dnearhos@tampabay.com. Follow @dianacnearhos.

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